STOCKTON has been named as the host of the iconic NSW Surf Life Saving Interbranch Championship this year, as thousands of volunteer surf lifesavers prepare for the start of the beach season this weekend.
Lifesavers will mark the start of the season with the official raising of the red and yellow flags at Bar Beach on Saturday.
Hunter Surf Life Saving chief executive Rhonda Scruton said its 7000 members were looking forward to a “huge season”, with the region hosting the Interbranch championship at Stockton in December and NSW Surf Life Saving Championships at Blacksmiths starting in February.
More than $2 million has been spent on south Stockton Beach since it was hit by extreme storm surges in June 2016 and stripped to a thin ribbon of sand.
Ms Scruton said Newcastle City Council had assured her that the beach and facilities would be ready for the Interbranch championships to be held on December 9 and 10.
“The cream of the crop will be on display for the event and Stockton is an ideal location,” she said.
“We think of it as normal, but from past experience over there the whole carnival will just about stop when a ship comes through the harbour.
“For a little club, what they can do is extremely impressive and there is no doubt it’ll be a big boost to the local economy.”
Hunter is confidently eyeing an elusive podium finish after recording its best result in 14 years last year, closing the margin to Central Coast from 92 points to just nine at the championship.
To assist, Hunter branch has introduced a new development squad offering extra team training sessions this year under coach Tim Foran, Shane Gibbs and Michael Waghorn.
“It is a very prestigious event, an iconic event,” Ms Scruton said.
“It’s an honour to do well there and it’s all about building a great culture of team work.”
Swansea Belmont will host the state championships, the pinnacle of NSW surf life saving, for the second year running in February and March.
An estimated 2500 juniors, aged between under 9s and under 14s, will compete at Blacksmiths Beach across three days. A further 3500 athletes will converge on the same venue for masters and opens.
“We are talking about very large numbers of visitors coming to the Hunter for these events,” Mrs Scruton said.
“It’s a great way to showcase the region and it’s excellent news for local businesses who will no doubt experience a boost in trade.”
Sponsors for this year’s Hunter Interbranch team are the Newcastle Permanent Building Society and Streets Ice Cream.